Steven McDonnell: Donegal won the lottery when Michael Murphy came along
Many players come and go but very few have the same kind of impact that Michael Murphy has had on our game.
I have always admired how he played football, and how he led his county as captain to the heights of winning an All-Ireland at such a young age.
For me, Murphy has been one of the most influential – if not the most influential – player of his generation.
On and off the field, he has inspired many with how he has performed, and with how he has carried himself off the field of play. He has been a true role model for any aspiring young footballer with intentions of making it at the top level.
If I were to identify a weakness in Murphy’s game – and it probably isn’t even one – it would simply be his versatility.
He could really play in any position from midfield up, and quite often he was helping out at the back as well, such was his calming presence when in possession of the football.
No matter what position he was asked to play in, you were always guaranteed to see a high level of workrate. This is a trait of on-field leaders.
His best position and where he was at his most dangerous was definitely at full-forward, though.
He was such a commanding figure playing close to goal and with his sheer strength, ability to play off either foot and his football intelligence, it must have been a nightmare for any defender when they saw him coming.
What often confused me was Donegal’s determination to play him out the field more often than not. If I was a corner-forward on that Donegal team, I would have wanted him in beside me as much as possible.
I can’t speak for Paddy McBrearty but I would imagine he would have felt the same way. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Murphy played more often at full-forward, Donegal would have won a lot more games than they did.
This does not in any way take away from what he was doing further out the field, because he was still the best player there, but that empowering figure just wasn’t on the end of the moves when he was around the middle of the field.
We all remember his goal in the 2012 All-Ireland final. A long direct ball in from Karl Lacey which Murphy simply won, brushing the Mayo full-back aside and unleashing a thunderbolt to David Clarke’s net. It was simply unstoppable.
This sent out a signal of intent early in the first half that Donegal meant business.
After making the breakthrough in 2007 as a 17-year-old, he seems to have been around forever, and some people forget he had just turned 23 when he captained Donegal to win the All-Ireland, but I am always a firm believer that if a player is good enough, then they are old enough.
Nobody can ever question that about Michael Murphy. He was the complete footballer. He was a tough tackler, sometimes playing on the edge, but I like that in a player. Most of the time, this side of the game cannot be instilled in a player. They either have it or they don’t and he did have it.
For such as big man, Murphy had all the skills down to a fine art and was an excellent free-taker, particularly off the ground. The reality is he has left a lasting legacy on the inter-county scene that will be spoken about forever. There is no doubt he is Donegal’s greatest ever player.
He also captained Ireland in the International Rules series and, as someone who was fortunate to do the same, I can say it is a massive personal honour – one that his family, club and county should also be extremely proud of.
I played for Ireland with him back in 2010 and 2011 and in the 2010 series the first Test was played in Limerick.
In the weeks leading up to the match, we travelled to Adare Manor for our team training camps.
One Friday evening, a few of us jumped into the car and went into a shop in Adare village.
We all did the Euromillions and I remember asking Michael: “What would you do if you won the Euromillions?”
His answer was simple and for a 21-year-old lad at the time, it wasn’t the one I was expecting. “I’d probably open a wee shop in Glenswilly, hi, and be happy there,” he said.
My answer would have been a lot different but that is what made Murphy special. A man who loves his home, his county and played like it. A generational footballer and one that I loved to watch play our game.
Maybe now, with that extra bit of free time on his hands, I might get to bump into Murphy over at Anfield, supporting our favourite team, Liverpool.